I was talking Sunday to a young man who goes to one of those rigorous boys' high schools that still encourages the study of Latin. (I know about such places because I went to another one.) We were discussing Virgil briefly, and I mentioned to him the perfectly characteristic expression "lacrimae rerum" (Aeneid, Book 1, line 462). It means "the tears of things." It is so characteristic of Latin because it is both succinct and evocative. It contains that "wonderful Latin ambiguity" that one of my Latin professors was so fond of. I remember being taught in English class at my rigorous high school not to use the word "thing" in composition. But in Latin class, "res" came up all the time. Indeed, "thing" can be vague and overused. But is there any doubt about Virgil's meaning when he speaks of the tears of "things"? Could his meaning be expressed any better with a more precise word?
It is the "lacrimae rerum" that I feel so often in the early mornings when I make most of these posts. On many days, the feeling passes like the shadows of dawn. On many others, the "lacrimae" remain through the noonday sun and to the vesper light. They are a part of the human condition, at least in its fallen state. Some of us are too prone to them (the melancholic) and others perhaps not prone enough (the sanguine). I am definitely too prone (so please pray for me). The trick is to claim this pearl of pagan wisdom and to baptize it with Christian hope. Without the tears of things, we lack compassion. Think of the Sorrowful Mother. But with too much, we lose joy. As Dante understood, Virgil makes a good guide, but only to the point where Christian hope begins in the person of Jesus Christ.